Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Your pad or mine?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2003 at 12:00 AM

The first thing lots of folks want to know about a Thai restaurant is, “How’s the Pad Thai?” At New Bangkok Thai Bistro, it’s a crowd-pleaser. The traditional dish is an amalgamation of contrasts: warm, slippery rice noodles, cool and crisp bean sprouts, crunchy peanuts. When you throw in egg and meat (or tofu and/or seafood), there’s a lot going on, but that’s why Pad Thai is so popular. At New Bangkok, it’s sweeter than most (yes, the recipe calls for sugar).

Serving size, as with all New Bangkok’s dishes, is vast. My only criticism would be that the dish is served here with lemon instead of lime — a cornerstone of Thai food.

Some might say that if you like this rendition of Pad Thai because it tastes “warm” (that’s the fat in the cooking oil) and/or sweet, you’re easily bought. The formula works for most, though — it’s Krispy Kreme’s recipe for success, after all. If you’re seeking a more gourmet version, look elsewhere.

At New Bangkok, some dishes were good enough though not stellar, and others were not so hot — which is no indication of the fire levels. Medium will be hot enough for most. Most entrées can be ordered with chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp, scallops or squid.

Owner Charly Vang opened New Bangkok in July, on the former site of a Chinese restaurant, taking off from the success of his Northville place, New Bangkok Cuisine. Unafraid of a bold color scheme, he’s using red-gold wallpaper, good-looking green and gold table runners, and wooden statues with hands folded in greeting. Stamped tin rice bowls and water pitchers add a subtle touch.

Thai restaurateurs often introduce their cuisine by saying it’s a blend of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian influences. The Indian impact shows in the curries, of course. Potato Curry includes beef, pork and chicken along with the potatoes and bamboo shoots, over rice.

I count three proteins and three carbs there, but it works. The chef makes a fine yellow gravy flecked with red pepper. Also in this section are red curries and green curries, usually with coconut milk.

The fried rice dishes are even more comfort-food-y than the Pad Thai, with an emphasis on the fried. The beef in one companion’s Kow Pad was super-soft, with, unfortunately, an overreliance on onions. I would never have thought to try Pineapple Fried Rice, but it was just fine except for the pineapple.

In Pad Khing (ginger sauce), I wish the ginger had been in the sauce, rather than appearing as a sudden surprise in selected bites. In the non-ginger bites, the dish is not really distinguishable from many of the other pad dishes that combine meat, assorted veggies and “brown sauce.”

I enjoyed Spicy Eggplant in a basil brown sauce; however, I enjoy eggplant in just about anything. In hindsight, I might have asked to skip the meat in the dish in favor of more eggplant.

A companion ordered Yum Neau — spicy, chewy grilled steak strips over lettuce and celery. The ingredients didn’t integrate and the contrast didn’t work. The two aspects of the salad seemed to wish they were elsewhere.

In his Tom Yum soup, on the other hand, the integration was overly complete. Instead of hot-and-sour, it was one hot-sour flavor, with too few shrimp. Call me picky, but for any cuisine to achieve world-class status, you want to taste the separate ingredients and know what each does for the dish.

About a sweet-and-sour Preaw Warn that another companion requested, the less said the better. Perhaps “tomatoes and pineapples” and “neon red-orange” is enough.

I didn’t check out New Bangkok’s Mongolian barbecue. It offers nine sauces including teriyaki, sweet and sour, olive oil, and barbecue.

Fun for the younger set are bubble drinks — smoothies with a handful of soft and chewy boiled tapioca pearls that you slurp up through a special wide straw. Strawberry, watermelon, coconut, taro, green tea and black milk tea are bubble drink flavor options.

I finished off with banana cake, which is rice steamed with coconut milk and wrapped in a banana leaf: hot, sweet and bland — more comfort food.

The place was packed on a Saturday night, and service was consequently very slow. On a Sunday afternoon, service was very quick.

New Bangkok is open every day (dinner only on weekends). Some seafood dishes, and frog legs, are served only at dinnertime. No alcohol.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail


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